Sunday, May 30, 2021

When "All" Isn't Enough

The purpose behind "All Lives Matter" was not to include "Black Lives Matter", but in more universalistic fashion. To the contrary, if "All Lives Matter" ever was understood as including Black lives, it would be a failure as a slogan. "All Lives Matter" exists entirely as a reflection of conservative rage at the idea that Black people and other minorities might feel included and valued; if a motto of that form ever actually did start to carry the public meaning of including non-White Americans, the polemicists who had been pushing it yesterday would tomorrow rebel against it just as hard.

“When we choose to isolate and elevate one group of people over another, that’s discrimination,” said Supervisor Craig McEwen, a retired police officer who is white [and voted against the resolution].


The “community for all” story began last summer when a small group of county officials began drafting a resolution they hoped would acknowledge disparities faced by local people of color. The original title, No Place for Hate, was deemed too inflammatory, so it was renamed A Community for All. 


“They’re creating strife between people labeling us as racist and privileged because we’re white,” Supervisor Arnold Schlei, a 73-year-old retired veal farmer who has been on the county board for 11 years, said in an interview. “You can’t come around and tell people that work their tails off from daylight to dark and tell them that they got white privilege and they’re racist and they’ve got to treat the Hmongs and the coloreds and the gays better because they’re racist. People are sick of it.”

He and others opposing the resolution argued that to acknowledge disparities faced by people of color would tilt social advantages to their benefit. The word “equity,” which was included in the resolution, served as a trigger for many, who made the false claim that memorializing it as a goal would lead to the county’s taking things from white people to give them to people of color.

Those opposed to the resolution made far-reaching claims about its potential impact. The local Republican Party chairman, Jack Hoogendyk, said the resolution would lead to “the end of private property” and “race-based redistribution of wealth.” Others have argued that there is, in fact, no racism in Marathon County, and even if there was, it’s not the county board’s business to do anything about it.

"A community for all" is semantically virtually identical to "all lives matter". The only difference is not in the words, but in the publicly understood meaning -- the former understood as a measure signaling the inclusion of non-White members, the latter understood as a slogan reacting against the inclusion of Black people. And that difference made all the difference: even though its rhetoric was explicitly a compromise for those for whom "No Place for Hate" was a bridge too far, "A community for all" was opposed with the same fury and fervency as Black Lives Matter was.

And then they have temerity to say racism doesn't exist.

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